Adapted from a recent online discussion.
You can't change abusive wife, so best course is to get out now
Little Rock: My wife and I have been married for 25 years. The first 15 were great; the last 10, not so much. I feel like I am being abused, but oddly enough, I sometimes doubt that. She often screams at me, calls me names, talks poorly of my family of origin, tears me down. She has gotten so angry in the past few years that she has even struck me, although she will act as if it never happened or that I "made her" do it.
Even as I write this, I realize how far I've tanked into this and how sick this has become, although I have sometimes questioned this reality. Am I right in calling this verbal abuse? Is it possible that I really "deserve" this treatment because of things I have done or not done to satisfy her in this relationship?
Carolyn: No one ever deserves abuse. If your behavior is so unacceptable to her that it warrants screaming or hitting — just for the sake of argument, I'm not defending her — then she should divorce you, not stick around and beat you down till your soul bleeds. Healthy people either leave someone who moves them to rage, or — if they feel bound by promises or necessities — accept what they can't control and address the rage themselves.
Abusers, on the other hand, will stay with mates they deem inferior or wrong, and continually assert their superiority over said mates — which is the whole point of abuse. Abusers diminish others to feel powerful. Everything you list — screaming, insults, hitting — gives your wife the necessary feedback that she is superior. You're her daily validation.
So you'll never "satisfy her in this relationship." That that's even possible is another abuse canard, perched alongside "getting what you deserve." This isn't about what you are or aren't doing, this is about who she is. You actually do satisfy her now: by taking her abuse, by doubting yourself, by seeing yourself though her eyes. You'll never be right, because she needs you to be wrong.
You can't do anything to change that about her, nor would it be your job to change her if you could.
What is a spouse's job? It's to treat your mate's needs as equal to your own, to do right by yourself and your partner, and to approach decisions large and small as a member of a partnership.
Sometimes this partnership falls out of balance, even when both members act in good faith. That's when it makes sense for both parties to work together toward balance for their own and each other's benefit. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try.
Sometimes, too, this partnership falls out of balance when one partner actively neglects or mistreats the other (read: screaming, hitting, insults, blame). That's when the besieged partner needs to protect him- or herself.
Since your self-doubt is as difficult to overcome as it is common in these situations, I urge you to call 1-800-799-SAFE (the National Domestic Violence Hotline) toll-free to find out where you can get counseling locally, as well as assistance in getting out and starting over. You're right in calling this verbal abuse, but you also need to call it physical abuse. Get help, now, please.